The hole in between his two front teeth doesn’t diminish how bright his smile flashes from across the dimly lit locker room.
He revealed earlier this season that he wanted to keep the chipped smile as an homage to the hockey players of old. David Pastrnak’s smile is certainly one characteristic people immediately notice about him.
Former teammate and current Toronto Maple Leaf William Nylander has become accustomed to seeing Pastrnak flash the pearly whites, no matter the situation.
“He’s always smiling, always happy,” Nylander noted before a recent game against the Bruins. “That’s who he is. That’s the kind of guy he is.”
Throughout his young life, David Pastrnak has been able to maintain his cheerful disposition despite being forced to grow up more quickly than most kids.
At the ripe age of 16, he moved from his native Czech Republic to Sodertalje, a mid-sized Swedish outpost a half hour outside of Stockholm. There, he played with Nylander on both the junior and men’s teams of Sodertalje SK, a team in Sweden’s second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan.
As if moving away from his family and friends as a teenager wasn’t difficult enough, his father, Milan, one of Pastrnak’s biggest supporters and motivators both on and off the ice, lost a four-year battle with cancer in May of 2013, just after his first season with Sodertalje.
Pastrnak found himself a teenager in a foreign country, having suffered one of the most devastating losses a young man can face. One couldn’t have blamed him if he had wanted to pack it up and head home.
Instead, he kept on smiling.
His second season with Sodertalje saw Pastrnak’s meteoric ascent begin.
After playing the majority of the previous season with Sodertalje’s under-20 squad, Pastrnak played just one game with the youth team in 2013-2014 while skating in 36 for the big club.
In the middle of that season, Pastrnak was living by himself in an apartment in Sodertalje when he was visited by UppdragSport, a Swedish sports website. Uppdrag brought a camera into Pastrnak’s apartment in a sort of Swedish “MTV Cribs,” shedding light on the life of the budding young forward.
Instead of being loaded with awkwardness (as if the case with most interviews with teenagers), Pastrnak’s smile, frequent laugh and a very noticeable black eye broke the tension.
In broken English, he described a quiet life: he does not watch much television since he doesn’t understand much Swedish; his refrigerator is sparsely filled with packages of prepared foods and bottles of soda (he pulled out cold cuts as he was asked his favorite item in the fridge); a few pieces of memorabilia hang from the wall of his bedroom, including a scarf from his first season on his Swedish club; notes of support from his mother dot the other walls.
A voice behind the camera asks Pastrnak questions, mostly in English, about all aspects of his life. How does he feel not going to school like other kids his age? What’s the most boring part about living alone? What is your dream?
He answers every question respectfully, a smile on his face as always, but missing out on the banalities of normal teen life don’t seem to matter to Pastrnak.
He’s just happy to be playing hockey.
Pastrnak finished the 2014 Swedish season with 24 points in those 36 regular season games, and eight points in 12 international tournament games representing the Czech Republic.
In May, then-Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli called Pastrnak’s name at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Pastrnak rose from his seat, pointed to the sky in honor of his late father, hugged his family and walked to the stage to become a member of the Boston Bruins.
Pastrnak reported to Bruins rookie training camp that summer at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, famously arriving without any of his equipment and losing his passport in what were the first of many hilarious “David being David” moments.
Pastrnak earned an invite to training camp with the NHL club after his rookie camp stint. Just before the start of the season, after great debate among fans of “should he stay or should he go,” Pastrnak was sent down to the minors, taking residence in Providence.
He remained there for nearly two months before making his NHL debut in a 3-2 overtime loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 24.
He tallied his first-career point two games later in Anaheim, an assist on a Brad Marchand goal, but was eventually returned to Providence without a goal.
Another call-up came a month later, with the Bruins needing offensive help after a tough stretch of missed points in overtime and shootout losses as the calendar turned from 2014 to 2015.
In his second game back with the big club, a game that took place in the building where he was drafted less than a year earlier, he scored the first two goals of his career against Philly’s Ray Emery.
In their next game three days later, a home division matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, he put two more in the net behind Ben Bishop.
The Czech kid with the sunny disposition, the enthusiastic smile and the exuberant goal celebrations was the talk of the town.
Pastrnak was here to stay.
Now firmly entrenched as an NHL regular, Pastrnak is able to reflect on his early NHL experience.
He had a solid group of veterans to show him (and the rest of the new call-ups) the ropes of the biggest stage of hockey.
“The older guys were awesome for me when I was here for the first time,” said Pastrnak after the Bruins wrapped up practice at Boston Landing. “Krej, Marchy, Bergy, back then it was Chris Kelly...it was a bunch of guys who helped us.”
With their presence and advice in mind, Pastrnak put up another six goals and 16 assists that season, finishing with 10-17-27 totals.
He found chemistry on a line with fellow Providence teammate Ryan Spooner and burly power forward Milan Lucic.
In his first full season last year, the successes of the previous year continued.
Mixed in the lineup with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci to various degrees, he put up one less point than he did in 2014 in spite of a fractured foot suffered at the end of October kept the forward out of the lineup for more than two months.
This season, coupled with good health and another year of experience under his belt, Pastrnak is already close to doubling the number of points he’s put up in each of his previous years.
Early in the season, Pastrnak’s name was seen alongside names like Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby atop the NHL’s goal-scoring leaderboard.
Three weeks without points stifled that, but since then, he has found consistency on the scoresheet once again, taking his struggles in stride.
“You can’t keep that pace in this kind of hockey,” Pastrnak said. “There are great players and great teams. I’m just trying to do my best every game and I’m pretty sure [my game] will get better.”
Over the course of five hockey seasons, David Pastrnak has gone from a Czech kid with dreams of making it to the big leagues to being the brightest star on one of the NHL’s most-storied franchises.
From Haivrov to Sodertalje, from apartments in Sweden to condos in Boston, through personal tragedies and triumphs, Pastrnak knows he has come a long way in a short period of time.
“When I look back, it’s a great experience,” he said. “Where I came from...I’ll never forget what I’ve had to go through.”
As for his appearance on Swedish “Cribs,” arguably the first real impression he made on Bruins fans, he’s happy to leave that in the past.
“I never watched that video again,” he said with a laugh and that characteristic smile. “My English was horrible!”
With that, David Pastrnak returned to the Bruins locker room, some 4,000 miles away from where his hockey journey began, ready to continue living the dream.